In front of a packed room, at The Order of Melbourne, he captivated fellow entrepreneurs with lessons from his own entrepreneurial roots and lessons of others he has learned along the way.
But, importantly, his 40 minutes in front of the mic was not about him.
It was about each and every person in the room. And it was about you, dear Anthillian.
The full audio podcast of last night’s event is now up on The Hive’s website, and is well worth tuning into. But if you’re pressed for time, here are five nuggets of Sammartino’s entrepreneurial wisdom, extracted from my not-so-lucid memory.
1. Even if you’re little, you can look and act big.
This was a key lesson from Sammartino’s second business, a t-shirt company. It’s also something Anthill founder James Tuckerman would agree with.
Anthillian folk lore tells of a 26 year-old entrepreneur who launched a national business magazine from his parents’ spare bedroom. Doing everything in his power to enhance the fledgling business’ public image, he photo-shopped 15 years onto his profile picture, adopted multiple personalities on the phone and attributed the majority of articles to friends. It all created the perception of size, credibility and experience necessary to grow the business.
Rentoid was built on some similarly compelling tales.
In the early days, one of the biggest issues faced by Sammartino was simply having enough items available on his site. Communities must reach a ‘tipping point’ to thrive. (i.e. The point where explosive, exponential growth in size and activity kicks in, and becomes self-sustaining). But to build this organically can take years, and a lot of money, two things most start-ups often don’t have.
So, to create a vibrant hub of rentable fun and opportunity, Sammartino would advertise dozens of items for rent that he did not own. Upon request, he would rush out, buy the item, rent it out a number of times and eventually sell it on eBay, usually for around half it’s original value. Activity such as this had a profound effect on site traffic and membership, and in the end he would usually recoup his initial cost from rental fees and the sale.
Now that is a bootstrapping approach to marketing!
2. But big is not necessarily better.
This was a lesson from Sammartino’s third business, a ‘de-stress drink’ manufacturer (the antithesis of an ‘energy drink’).
Big businesses like to get things right the first time. They march to a culture where failure is unacceptable.
Though this business was a small start-up, Sammartino had, for some reason (that I can’t remember), chosen to adopt a big business mindset and wanted to nail the launch. He wanted perfection.
Endless planning, strategising and testing ultimately sapped Sammartino of his passion for the business, before the first drops of his ‘de-stress drink’ had ever touched a consumer’s tongue.
One of the biggest advantages of any small or medium sized business is its ability to be nimble and flexible. Most start-ups can, and should, sacrifice perfection for progress and customer interaction. Sammartino discovered that 100% accuracy is not only a distraction. It’s an outright myth.
3. Products are becoming service based.
The days of products that fulfil a simple need are over. Think about the products that we surround ourselves with today. They all have a story to tell and they engage us like a service, fulfilling our needs in a personal way. This is at the core of modern marketing.
Even the seemingly obscure products in our lives no longer carry a simple sales proposition.
A toothbrush is not just a toothbrush anymore. It’s a multi-tasking, bacteria obliterating, cavity fighting, tooth defending, bad-breath-destroying wonder-brush! It’s not just a toothbrush. It’s the superhero of your whole damn bathroom.
Consumers are becoming increasingly desensitised to anything that doesn’t excite or register on a personal or emotional level.
Even the desirability of an average product for rent on a website like Rentoid can be enhanced by a simple back-story. You may already have heard about the BMX that was bought on eBay by Australian agency George Patterson Y&R and then re-sold after adding some creativity to the listing.
Here’s what the ad said:
“Once I did a boom gnarly stunt trick on it and a girl got pregnant just by watching my extremeness to the maxxxx”
“Basically if you buy this bike you will instantly become a member to every club that was ever invented, worldwide, because you will be awesome.”
The outcome was a sale price five times that of its initial purchase price.
4. Knowledge is no match for passion.
Rentoid is a web-based peer-to-peer rental site. It’s eBay (or The Trading Post) but for rentals, not sales. So Sammartino must be a web developing whizz, right?
Wrong. He’s the first to admit he can barely draft a line of code.
Sammartino claims that too much knowledge can create complacency and acceptance of the rules and norms that an industry follows.
Change and disruption are at the heart of innovation. If the best card you’ve got is your passion and burning desire to make a difference, you’re a lot further ahead than you think.
5. Success is the sum of past failures.
This is a popular entrepreneurial creed. Rentoid is Sammartino’s fourth business and first commercial success. But like all great entrepreneurs, his path is paved with sacrifice, loss, persistence and hard bloody work. And you can tell he wouldn’t have it any other way.
6. Make that 6 nuggets
This late edition is a solid-gold quote from Steve last night which we wanted to get right (thanks Steve for clarifying).
Who said that work must be done between the hours of nine and five, Monday to Friday? What a crap idea. As entrepreneurs, we should work when it suits us, not because it’s daylight. And definitely not because some industries told us that was the thing to do 200 years ago. The only thing that a nine-to-five lifestyle guarantees anyone is the opportunity to fight peak hour traffic twice a day.
There’s a sixth seventh rule that wasn’t explicitly articulated at last night’s event.
But I’d like to add it anyway.
Passion should be shared.
Sammartino has a way of making others understand that entrepreneurial dreams are not so fanciful. That they are achievable, no matter who you are. And that life is too short to fly a desk all your life.
UPDATE: the podcast of Steve’s speech is now up.